No, you did not fall down the rabbit hole. But indeed, those raccoons, rabbits, cats, dogs, birds, monkeys and turtles are trying to tell you something. What? Well, for instance that you have to be careful for them crossing the street, for danger of fire, falling chestnuts, angry deer and electrocution. Seriously? Oh yes, seriously. Because this is Japan and it is manga time. 24/7.
With buses painted as cats and shinkansen trains air sprayed with pocamon, the streets of Japan do look like a zoo every now an then. But all animals aside, it is not just about animation. It is all about getting communication. Taking into account that most visitors can’t read kanji, it is quite brilliant that the Japanese totally succeed in getting their message about crossing raccoons, falling chestnuts or dedicated cell phone parking lots across.
When despite the lack of understanding of a language you can without any trouble buy a train ticket or know what to do when your dog does a number 2, you are dealing with the premier league of graphic design. And besides being awesome and very handy, spotting all the different ways the Japanese use pictures in daily life is addictive. It’s like you are making a journey within a journey.
To look at traffic signs, is to look at the cultural soul of a country. That in mind, it is not a surprise that you find minimalistic (but way too many) signs in the Netherlands, a lot of warnings to avoid getting sued and signs about what your tax dollar is working at in the US and safety (disguised in happy animal faces) first, second and third in Japan.
Does this make the Japanese an above average visually triggered lot? It is not easy to say. Japan is a land where the most beautiful contemporary architecture by Tadao Ando sits next to truly despicable suburbs full of pachinko parlors. It is a land where you find absolutely stunning looking people in fascinating fashion walking side by side with an army of salary men dressed in dark pants and white shirts. A land where the culinary art of Kaiseki conflicts with the amazing number of McDonald’s. Where you can sit next to a fellow passenger reading the most violent porn-slasher-manga in the subway, headed for yet another Dick Bruna exhibition.
In the end Japan is a truly fascinating country where ancient cultural tradition and a post modern way of life appear to organically blend. It is a puzzle for many non-Japanese. One that’s never finished and always makes you wonder where to put the piece you are holding in order to recreate the image on the box.